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Dams and disputes: water institutions in colonial New South Wales, Australia, 1850-1870

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journal contribution
posted on 08.06.2017, 05:52 by Harris, Edwyna
This paper will analyse the operation of the British common law of riparian rights in the Riverina District of New South Wales (NSW), Australia between 1850 and 1870. Theorists argue that the predisposition of people to fight over or cooperate to exploit valuable resources depends on how well property rights are defined and enforced.† The operation of the riparian doctrine in the Riverina provides an empirical, historical example of why inefficient property rights promote violence. Violence in this instance was based on collective action directed at the destruction of water supply infrastructure, specifically dams, constructed on various rivers within the Riverina. This paper considers why collective action in violence did not spill over into infrastructure construction. It is argued that the failure of collective action was due to its high costs stemming from several factors: failure to meet optimal group size; problems of free riders; hold-up concerns; and the introduction of a much disputed land policy in 1861 referred to as selection.


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Department of Economics.

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